Pauling’s OSAC Honorary Doctorate

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Linus Pauling at Oregon State Agricultural College in June 1933. The 1933 commencement program stated that Pauling was “now acclaimed among the distinguished scientists of our time.” Included in the photograph (left to right) are Dr. Marvin Gordon Neale, Commencement speaker; David C. Henny, honorary degree recipient; Pauling; Dr. William J. Kerr, Chancellor of the Oregon State System of Higher Education and OSAC president from 1907-1932; and Charles A. Howard, honorary degree recipient.

[Ed Note: This weekend is commencement weekend at Oregon State University, and to mark the occasion we thought we would look back at Graduation Day 1933 at Oregon State Agricultural College, a commencement exercise distinguished by Linus Pauling’s receipt of an honorary doctorate from his undergraduate alma mater.]

The early years of Linus Pauling’s academic career were marked by a dizzying array of accomplishments. Offered an assistant professorship by Caltech at the conclusion of his graduate studies in 1927, he was promoted to full professor just four years later. And by 1933, he oversaw twice as many graduate students and post-doctoral fellows as any other professor at the Institute.

His Caltech salary also increased substantially during this time, the result of his having received numerous offers from other institutions trying to pry him away from Pasadena. Since he was usually asked to teach only one seminar per term, he was also left with plenty of time to conduct research, often as a visiting professor at nearby universities.

Perhaps most notably, he had also won the first ever Langmuir Award, granted in 1931 for his research in structural chemistry. A.C. Langmuir, the brother of Nobel chemist Irving Langmuir, established the award for “outstanding chemical research,” defined to be work of unique merit conducted by an individual in the beginning stages of their career. In granting the award to Pauling, A.C. Langmuir recognized Pauling to be a rising star and predicted that he would one day win the Nobel Prize. In many respects, the award launched Pauling into the public eye.

Around this time, Pauling gave a seminar at Caltech on the quantum mechanics of the chemical bond that famously baffled Albert Einstein, who was in attendance. Not long after, Pauling became the youngest individual ever invited to join the National Academy of Sciences. It is no wonder then that Caltech’s chemistry chief A.A. Noyes remarked that Pauling was “the most promising young man with whom I have had contact in my many years of teaching.”


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Pasadena Post, September 27, 1933

Where Pauling’s talent was coming to the attention of the broader scientific community in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Oregon State Agricultural College had recognized Pauling’s potential much earlier, during his years as an undergraduate. In May 1933, perhaps seeking to strike while the iron was hot, OSAC sent Pauling a telegram offering him an honorary doctorate of science, which would be his first. Despite the short notice, Pauling promptly and eagerly agreed to be present for the commencement ceremony, which would take place on June 5, 1933. Not long after, he hopped in his car and drove from Pasadena to Corvallis to partake in alumni events scheduled for the preceding weekend.

Recent changes at Pauling’s alma mater made this honorary degree all the more impressive. In 1932, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education established what was then called the Oregon State System of Higher Education to manage the affairs of colleges and universities in Oregon, an arrangement that remained in place for more than eighty years. Oregon State president William Jasper Kerr subsequently became the first chancellor of the system.

Over time, Oregon State University has both decentralized and simplified the process by which it decides to award honorary doctorates. In contrast, the decision to award Pauling his doctorate required the agreement of numerous individuals from the top of the system on down. Specifically, Pauling was recommended by the state system’s administrative council, approved by Chancellor Kerr, and endorsed by the board of higher education.


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Pauling was one of three alumni to receive an honorary degree from Oregon State Agricultural College that year. The others were David C. Henry, a consulting engineer in Portland who received his honorary doctorate of Engineering, and Charles Howard, the state superintendent of public institutions in Oregon, who received an honorary Doctorate of Education. Dr. Marvin Gorden Neale, president of the University of Idaho, gave the commencement address that afternoon. In his speech, delivered in the early years of the Depression, Neale spoke of the need to fight against critics of the education system and to work to insure that support for land grant colleges and universities didn’t slip away.

When the moment came to introduce Linus Pauling, William Jasper Kerr listed off a string of accomplishments amassed since Pauling’s 1922 graduation from Oregon Agricultural College. In addition to the Languir Prize and the National Academy of Sciences admission, Kerr also emphasized Pauling’s achievements during his two years as a Guggenheim fellow, his authorship of over fifty scientific articles, and his appointment as a full-time professor at Caltech.


The evening report published in the Corvallis Gazette-Times newspaper leaned heavily on Pauling’s local roots and agreed with others’ assessment that Pauling’s future was bright. The paper also reported that 486 degrees were conferred at the 1933 commencement: 418 bachelor’s degrees, 52 graduate degrees, and 13 pharmaceutical chemistry diplomas.

OSAC Executive Secretary W. A. Jensen wrote to Pauling following the ceremony to confide that his award had been one of the most heartily endorsed doctorates he could remember. He also conveyed the encouragement and approval of Pauling’s burgeoning career that had been relayed by many on campus. Jensen concluded his memo with an increasingly common idea: “The Nobel Prize is just ahead!”

When Science published news of Pauling’s accomplishment, Fred Allen, another Oregon State alumnus, wrote Pauling to congratulate him. In his letter, Allen joked

I am proud that our alma mater could break away from the precedent which has stumbling over one’s beard a prerequisite to an honorary degree.

Indeed, Pauling was only 32 when awarded his first honorary doctorate, just eleven years removed from his undergraduate program. The two other recipients of honorary degrees at the 1933 graduation ceremony were decades older than Pauling.

Pauling would ultimately accumulate 47 honorary degrees over the course of his lifetime. For a man of such decoration, it would seem fitting that his first honorary degree came from his alma mater, a school that encouraged his passion for science well before he became nationally recognized. The honor captured an important moment in Pauling’s career and provided a glimpse of what was to come.

A Lecture Interrupted and a Campus Torn Apart

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[Part 2 of 2]

The Oregon State University Black Student Union’s (BSU) decision to interrupt a convocation featuring Linus Pauling and to stage a subsequent walkout off of campus were sparked by an incident involving an African American student athlete at OSU. As documented in multiple later accounts, on February 22, 1969 OSU football player Fred Milton broke team rules by refusing to shave his goatee.  Although this conflict occurred during the off-season, Oregon State football coach Dee Andros – an ex-Marine affectionately known as “The Great Pumpkin” – believed that he still maintained authority over his players and their appearance.  Andros gave Milton a forty-eight hour deadline to comply with the team rule. If he continued to resist, he would be cut from the team, which would mean he would also lose his OSU scholarship.

The BSU took on Milton’s cause and began planning peaceful measures to publicly express their solidarity and to bring awareness to the struggles that African American students were facing on the OSU campus. The actions that the agreed to put in play included a sit-in at a public event, a class boycott, and a campus walkout. The group also began publishing an underground newspaper, The Scab Sheet, which they viewed to be an important alternative to the OSU Daily Barometer, the student daily that had assumed an editorial stance tfavorable to Andros’ perspective.

The BSU believed the Milton case to be an infringement of a student’s rights to individual self-expression.  The group also pointed out that this was not the first black student athlete who had come into conflict with Andros’ policies; in the past, others had been told to keep their hair short and to not wear medallions.  BSU President Mike Smith explained that, although the policies were extended across the athletic department, they were based on standards set by white society, and that black student athletes were pressured to conform to them.

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OSU football coach Dee Andros holding telegrams of support, March 1969.

The first of the BSU’s peaceful protest actions began with a sit-in at a campus lecture, which was to be given by Linus Pauling on the morning of February 25, 1969.  The speech, titled “Advancement of Knowledge: Ortho-Molecular Psychiatry,” was one of seven presentations scheduled over three days as part of the OSU centenary celebration. The series celebrated the first hundred years of Oregon State by looking toward the future with a general theme of “The Second Hundred Years.” To encourage campus participation, the university cancelled all classes that conflicted with the seven presentations.  The formal lectures were to be followed by a discussion period in which students would be given the opportunity to dialogue with each of the invited speakers.

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Pauling’s speech is interrupted during his introduction. Pauling, seated, is obscured at right by the state of Oregon flag.

As Pauling was being introduced, an estimated seventy Black Student Union members and supporters filed into Gill Coliseum, the school’s basketball arena and the location for Pauling’s lecture. The BSU students subsequently took control of the dais, while Pauling remained seated. Mike Smith, the BSU president, and sophomore defensive back Rich Harr explained the group’s reasons for staging the interruption and also announced a boycott of athletic events that would start that weekend.  The speakers likewise called for white student support, noting that this was not just about the treatment of black student athletes, but of all students on campus. These sentiments were repeated later at a rally held in front of OSU’s Memorial Union.

After about twenty minutes, the protesters left the gym.  The large crowd that had assembled for Pauling’s talk gave a mixed response, though the majority of students applauded the BSU’s statements.  In an oral history interview conducted in 2011, OSU chemistry professor emeritus Ken Hedberg, a close friends of Pauling’s, remembered the participants as having been “very well behaved.”

A strong supporter of individual rights, Pauling was uncertain as to why Milton could not wear a beard and later noted that he never succeeded in receiving a straight answer from the university’s administration concerning the rationale for this policy. Paulng also expressed a belief that the sentiment displayed on his alma mater’s campus mirrored trends at other universities and that, as with many other institutions, the roots of these brewing conflicts lay mostly with the administration’s inability to recognize the problem and to take measures to fix it.

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In the days following the lecture sit-in, OSU President James Jensen took steps to reconcile with the BSU, but he did not meet with success. On March 1, the BSU announced the next in its series of actions to stand up for the rights of African American students at OSU.  Class boycotts followed on March 4with hundreds of students, faculty, and staff joining in support.  Athletic events were also boycotted both at OSU and elsewhere, and black athletes in the PAC-8 joined the protest by refusing to participate in games against OSU.

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On March 5, forty-seven black students – essentially the entire African American student population at the school – marched out of the main gate on the east side of OSU’s campus. The walkout began with a rally held in the Memorial Union that included a talk delivered by BSU president Mike Smith.  Speaking to a gathering of more than 1,000 faculty and students, Smith stressed that black students could no longer accept “the plantation logic” upheld by the administration and athletic department at OSU, a “hallowed institution of racism.”  Reporting on these events the next day, the Scab Sheet suggested that the OSU walkout was the first of its kind at an American college or university.

The Oregon State BSU chapter was joined in the walkout by over 100 members from the University of Oregon’s Black Student Union, who chartered buses and drove up to Corvallis to participate in solidarity.  There was also a rally held in sympathy at Portland State University to support the actions on OSU’s campus.  The president of PSU’s Black Student Union spoke at the rally and condemned OSU’s “policy of tradition” as being “not in accord with what’s going on today.”

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African American students walking off the OSU campus, March 5, 1969.

On March 6 the OSU Faculty Senate convened and passed an amended version of an “Administrative Proposal” that had been drafted by the school’s Office of Minority Affairs. This proposal included the creation of a Commission on Human Rights and Responsibilities.

The following day, three students withdrew from the university to seek education elsewhere. In response, the Faculty Senate met again to declare an emergency, an action which allowed the students who withdrew to receive an incomplete on their transcripts rather than a failing grade. Faculty members at the University of Oregon also met around this time to consider a proposal that would allow black students from OSU to be admitted as expediently as possible, should they choose to pursue their education at the university.

In an editorial, the Scab Sheet expressed a lack of surprise that the black students had left. After all,

Arrayed against them was a coalition of the University administration, the Athletic Department, the various athletic supporters, white athletes, Chamber of Commerce and alumni.

Furthermore, the university had earned a reputation for being ill-prepared to deal with minority students, and had compiled a record of inaction in handling problems of this sort. In fact, as explained by the president of the Associated Students of OSU, inaction seemed to be the university’s current formal policy.  Indeed, one year before, the university had turned back over $100,000 in federal funds that had been earmarked for the recruitment of minority students.  In the view of the Scab Sheet, the situation had deteriorated “to the point that blacks could maintain pride and self-respect only by disassociating themselves completely from Oregon State University.”

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The departure of many black students from OSU’s campus in 1969 altered student demographics for many years to come and exacted lasting damage to the university’s reputation within multiple communities. With respect to athletics, Dee Andros was not able to convince a single African American player to join his 1970 recruiting class, and from 1971 to 1998, OSU’s football teams posting losing records, still the longest run of futility in the history of Division I football.

Fred Milton, whose refusal to shave his beard brought decades of tensions to a head, ultimately transferred to Utah State University. Milton later enjoyed a successful career at IBM and Liberty Mutual Insurance, before moving into the public sector as a civil servant working for the city of Portland and Multnomah County. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 62.

Though a painful moment in OSU history, the actions taken by the BSU in winter 1969 led to direct and meaningful changes on the Corvallis campus. Later that year, OSU established the Educational Opportunities Program, which was designed to help recruit and retain students of color. Three cultural centers were also established on campus, each a mechanism for creating community spaces for students of color and a platform for sharing these students’ experience with the broader university community.

The 1969 Black Student Union Walkout

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African American students leaving the OSU campus through its west gate, February 25, 1969.

[Ed Note: We recently received a collection of photographs documenting an important moment in the history of Oregon State University – a walkout of African American students led by OSU’s Black Student Union in winter 1969. While this is largely an OSU story, Linus Pauling did play a role in the event, which we’ll explore this week and next.]

The racial tensions that escalated throughout the 1960s and that made an imprint on universities all across the United States were evident on the campus of Oregon State University as well. In a description that accompanied a photo collection recently accessioned by the OSU Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center, photographer Gwil Evans, who was a Journalism professor at OSU at the time, provided some background on event that served as a pivot point for race relations at Oregon State near the end of the 1960s.

In his notes, Evans explained that, on February 25, 1969, members of the OSU Black Student Union interrupted a convocation hosted by President James Jensen at OSU’s Gill Coliseum. The convocation, which was part of a series of events marking the university’s centenary, was to feature a speech by Linus Pauling, Oregon State’s most prominent alum.

The immediate cause of the interruption and subsequent protest was a demand issued by OSU’s football coach, Dee Andros, that one of his players, and African American student athlete named Fred Milton, shave his facial hair. This conflict arose in the context of a longer history of racial tensions on campus, as well as concurrent protests related to tuition hikes and the escalation of the Vietnam War.

There was also an uneasiness associated with the talk itself, both with respect to Pauling’s presence on campus as well as the way in which he was introduced to the large crowd that assembled for his lecture.  These issues dated back many years, stemming from a schism that had developed between Pauling and Oregon State in 1949, due to Pauling’s belief that Ralph Spitzer – a former graduate student of Pauling’s who was fired from his faculty position at Oregon State College – was let go due to his political beliefs.

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Ralph Spitzer.

Pauling had known Spitzer since serving as a Visiting Lecturer at Spitzer’s undergraduate alma mater, Cornell University, in 1937.  Spitzer then went on to complete his Ph.D at Caltech in 1941 under the general supervision of Pauling, and sometimes working directly for Pauling.  The two shared a strong mutual respect and often closed their letters with questions asking after wives, children, and general well-being.  Pauling ultimately helped Spitzer to secure research funding and a teaching position at Oregon State College by providing his pupil with a series of consistently glowing recommendations.

Once they had arrived in Corvallis, Spitzer and his wife Terry became increasingly interested in American social problems as well as a multitude of issues related to the atomic bomb.  This concern in matters well beyond the teaching of chemistry, coupled with Ralph and Terry’s lack of hesitation in voicing their opinions, ultimately resulted in Spitzer’s firing by OSU President August Strand in February 1949.

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Ralph and Terry Spitzer, April 1949.

A letter that Spitzer had published in Chemical and Engineering News supporting Trofim Lysenko’s evolutionary theory of vernalization and, more broadly, Soviet science, provided a useful excuse for the OSC administration to deny renewal of his contract.  Although this was, on a technical level, an acceptable action for the president to take, since Spitzer was not tenured and he was not fired for explicitly political reasons, word of the incident quickly spread across campus and the region.

One of Spitzer’s immediate responses upon being informed of his impending dismissal was to write to Pauling seeking his help.  He also asked for a trial before the American Chemical Society (ACS), which refused to become involved in the incident despite the fact that Pauling himself was president at the time.

Nonetheless, after studying the details of the situation, Pauling wrote to President Strand and informed him that, although he did not hold the same beliefs as Spitzer, he believed his former student was certainly entitled to harbor opinions of this sort, and that OSC needed to honor them as a matter of academic freedom and respect for the principles of democracy.  Speaking as an OSC alumnus, fellow chemist, educator, American, and president of the ACS, Pauling urged Strand to reconsider his decision to fire Spitzer.

Strand responded to Pauling forcefully, writing that

if by this action, Oregon State College has lost your respect and support, all I can say is that your price is too high.  We’ll have to get along without your aid.

And so it was that Pauling did not engage with his alma mater until December 1966, five years after Strand had retired from his post

Though the ice between Pauling and OSU had been broken a couple years prior, the situation remained awkward as he arrived on campus for the centenary lecture series. Of particular note, Strand’s successor as OSU President, James Jensen, elected not to introduce Pauling. Instead, Bert Christensen, who was chair of the OSU Chemistry department, was asked to fill this role. This decision was far from customary for a visitor of Pauling’s magnitude and was viewed by many as an affront.

Pauling himself made note of being surprised upon learning of this breach in normal protocol.  He was far more surprised when Christiansen’s introduction was abruptly interrupted by the president of the Black Student Union, the details of which we’ll explore next week.

Becoming Dr. Pauling

Pauling posing at lower campus, Oregon Agricultural College, ca. 1917.

Pauling posing at lower campus, Oregon Agricultural College, ca. 1917.

Linus Pauling’s 114th birthday, which was observed last weekend, dovetails nicely with the seventh anniversary of the creation of this blog, which we celebrate today. Milestones of this sort tend to get us thinking about our connection with Pauling here at Oregon State University and the transformative experience that he enjoyed as an undergraduate, more than ninety years ago.  Though he left Oregon in 1922 and would never reside in his home state again, the roots of the Linus Pauling who would deeply impact so many corners of twentieth century history can be concretely traced back to his youth in the Beaver state and, importantly, to his tenure as an undergraduate at Oregon Agricultural College.


During Pauling’s teenage years, questions regarding his future and the feasibility of professional training began entering his mind. As he weighed his options, Pauling had several things to consider. Of primary importance was the absence of his father, Herman, who had died in 1909, leaving the family’s financial situation teetering on the brink and erasing a vital male mentor from young Linus’s life. Though plagued with emotional insecurities, and despite being forced to hold a job from an early age to help supplement the family income, Linus still managed to discover his true passion, chemistry, as a thirteen year old high school freshman.

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In a 1954 interview, Pauling credited Miss Pauline Geballe, a teacher at Portland’s Washington High School, for having helped him to discover his love for chemistry. Always a precocious child, Pauling began seizing every opportunity to learn more once his interest was sparked, and he took as many math and science courses as he could while in high school. Though a success at Washington, he knew that there was still much more to learn. At the time, chemistry was a booming professional field in the United States, and Pauling was aware that pursuing a degree in that area would pay off financially while hopefully satisfying his intellectual curiosity.

And yet, as he pondered his future, Pauling’s internal dialogue was haunted by his lingering insecurities. Believing that a college education was a privilege reserved for competent individuals, he at times felt unworthy of an opportunity of this sort. Eventually Pauling was able to overcome his fears and enroll at Oregon Agricultural College (OAC, currently Oregon State University), the state’s land grant institution and, realistically, the only college that he could afford. (Tuition was free for Oregon residents, and student fees amounted to around $10 per term, depending on the courses that one took.)

Fear flooded Pauling’s mind as the time came to face a new and unfamiliar environment. A month and a day before entering OAC, Pauling wrote in his diary:

Paul Harvey is going to OAC to study chemistry – Big manly Paul Harvey, beside whom I pale into insignificance. Why should I enjoy the same benefits he has, when I am so unprepared, so unused to the ways of man? I will not be able on account of my youth and inexperience, to do justice to the courses and the teaching placed before me.

Paul Harvey, as seen in the 1919 Beaver Yearbook.

Paul Harvey, as seen in the 1919 Beaver Yearbook.

It is interesting to note that finances – though a logical worry for someone in Pauling’s situation – are not what seemed to have troubled him the most. More salient is the link between experience, or “manliness,” and the benefits of an education. Pauling began college at the age of 16 and he clearly thought of his youth as an obstacle that put him at a disadvantage. OAC, however, gave Pauling more than academic knowledge; it changed the way that he thought about himself. Rather than asking why he should enjoy the benefits of a higher education, Pauling left OAC brimming with confidence, in search of new opportunities as a professional and as an intellectual.


Young Pauling, ca. late 1910s.

Young Pauling, ca. late 1910s.

To think that Pauling began his academic experience as a timid and uncertain individual may come as somewhat of a surprise; particularly so because Pauling is now remembered as an outspoken, larger-than-life figure. From the vantage point of today one might also suggest that, as he entered college, Pauling should not have felt like he lacked experience. He had, after all, just about exhausted most of the employment and educational opportunities then available to a young man of high school age. Quite early on in life, Pauling had been given the responsibility of watching the family drugstore whenever his father needed to be absent. Later on, in his free time, Pauling and his friends devised any number of new schemes to remain employed, even seriously contemplating the possibility of opening a private chemical laboratory. And in school, Pauling seized every opportunity to broaden his horizons.

Looking into the records from Pauling’s undergraduate years, one might surmise that his feelings of unworthiness were overcome largely because of the OAC experience itself. In college he would develop his character and identity.  And he would escape the shell of the boy who lost his father at the age of eight and who was raised by a harried mother whom, in his later estimation, didn’t understand him very well.


"A prodigy, yet in his teens."

“A prodigy, yet in his teens.”

As the young Pauling settled in at Oregon Agricultural College, he found himself first overwhelmed by the diversity of courses that were required of chemical engineering students and, eventually, dissatisfied with the quality of coursework that was offered. Pauling realized pretty quickly, however, that he “deserved” to be in college as the successes that he had enjoyed in his high school courses continued in the OAC classrooms and labs. It is also clear that, by the time Pauling graduated, students and professors alike recognized his academic talent: OAC’s 1922 yearbook refers to Pauling, by then a senior, as “a prodigy, yet in his teens.”

By the time that he had graduated, Pauling’s overwhelming sense of his academic experience was that of dissatisfaction with the limitations from which OAC suffered at the time. Students were required to learn only the basics of chemical engineering and most of his professors lacked professional experience in the chemical industry. Most of the department’s professors did not have a doctorate, and of those who claimed a post-graduate education, at least one was lying.

Known then as the "Chem Shack," OSU's refurbished Furman Hall now houses the College of Education.

Known then as the “Chem Shack,” OSU’s refurbished Furman Hall now houses the College of Education.

There were faculty members at OAC, however, who were aware that professions in the sciences were changing and that both a research infrastructure and a chemical industry based in the United States were on the ascendance. OAC professors like Floyd Rowland did their best to expose their students to the latest findings and research methodologies in the field. Indeed, Rowland, the head of the chemical engineering program, so impacted his students that nine out of the twelve in Pauling’s graduating class went on to pursue post-graduate education – at that time, a near unimaginable success. So while Pauling’s hunger for an academic challenge was not quenched as an undergraduate, he surely began to discover his true potential at OAC, and he had at least a few people on campus helping him down that path.


Pauling with a few of his Gamma Tau Beta fraternity brothers.  Pauling, at left, wears his "rook lid," required apparel for all OAC freshman boys at that time. Ca. 1917.

Pauling with a few of his Gamma Tau Beta fraternity brothers. Pauling, at left, wears his “rook lid,” required apparel for all OAC freshman boys at that time. Ca. 1917.

Concerning the social side of Pauling’s undergraduate experience, it is known from his letters and reflections in later years that his involvement in the fraternity system was very important to the development of his personality. Pauling credited the OAC Chapter of Delta Upsilon for bringing him out of the isolation from his peers that he had felt as a child and had initially experienced upon moving to Corvallis.

His involvement in the Greek system began when he was invited to join Gama Tau Beta. Pauling later suggested that this likely came about because the house needed to bolster its grade point average and knew that Pauling would provide a big boost. Whatever the reason for Pauling’s invitation, he joined and he greatly benefited from the company of new found brothers.

Over time Pauling became a house leader. One of his main goals is this capacity was to broaden the connections of his fraternity by proposing that the house join a nationwide brotherhood, the Delta Upsilon fraternity. Once his house brothers accepted the proposition, Pauling almost single-handedly took care of moving the transition forward. In his later years, Pauling discussed the impact that fraternity life had made on his college experience, noting that

up until the time that I became a member of Gamma Tau Beta there was no one who strove to teach me how to get along with my fellow human beings.

So while Pauling was discovering his academic and professional potential through his classroom experience at OAC, his shyness was also being overcome by the social mentorship that he received from his fraternity brothers.  When he left Corvallis, Pauling was well on his way to becoming the confident individual that many came to know over the ensuing decades.


A very early - perhaps the earliest - photo of Ava Helen Miller and Linus Pauling together, 1922.

A very early – perhaps the earliest – photo of Ava Helen Miller and Linus Pauling together, 1922.

OAC provided a wealth of opportunities for Pauling to cultivate his talents and discover his potential, but probably the most important outcome of his undergraduate experience was the relationship that he developed with Ava Helen Miller.

As we’ve seen, Pauling’s academic prowess was noted by students and faculty alike, so much so that, during his junior year, Pauling was hired as an instructor and assigned to teach freshman-level chemistry. He was eighteen years old at the time.

On January 6, 1922, Linus entered a classroom nervous, but basically ready, to teach a class of Home Economics majors. The era being what it was, this class consisted entirely of female students. Feeling a need to establish his authority from early on, Pauling decided to ask a tough question. He ran his finger down the registration sheet, looking for someone to call on in response to the inquiry, “what do you know about ammonium hydroxide…Miss Miller?”  Ava Helen responded with a quite satisfactory answer – the class had studied this compound during the previous term – and thus began a relationship that steadily developed into a romance. In the months that followed, the connection between the two quickly developed and, before long, the young couple was engaged.

Posing together on graduation day, 1922.

Posing together on graduation day, 1922.

Linus’s early relationship with Ava is of notable importance because it bridges two periods in his career: the end of the OAC chapter and the beginning of his long run at Caltech. Linus graduated from OAC in June 1922 and moved on to Pasadena while Ava Helen stayed in Corvallis for more schooling, the couple’s desire to wed temporarily squelched by both sets of parents. Separated for one year, the two wrote to each other nearly every day, and in these letters Linus expressed his true self to Ava Helen in a way he had not done (and never would do) with anybody else.

Later on, in marriage, the two would inspire each other to take their work even further. Ava Helen’s interest in world affairs would propel Linus’s awareness of the need for peace activism, and Linus’s dedication would inspire Ava Helen to become a leader in countless social justice organizations. As a friend of the duo wrote in 1960 “the Paulings don’t stand in each other’s shadow, they walk in each other’s light.”  For us, as we reflect on the milestones of today, it is gratifying to know that this hugely important couple owed their introduction to the little land grant school in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – a fertile space then, as now, for the transformation of bright young minds.

Roger J. Williams: Nutrition Scientist

Roger J. Williams and Linus Pauling, 1972.

Roger J. Williams and Linus Pauling, 1972.

[Part 1 of 2]

“For about 15 years I have been working in the field of nutrition and I’ve become acquainted with many of the nutritionists, professors of nutrition. I have formed the opinion that Professor Williams is the outstanding man in this field in the world. I think that he has had the better background of training in the basic sciences which has permitted him to attack problems in this field more effectively than any other person.”

-Linus Pauling, November 1979.

Roger John Williams was a prolific scientist in the fields of biochemistry and nutrition who discovered pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) and named and researched folic acid (vitamin B9). He was also an important advocate of public health nutrition. In his writings, Williams emphasized the biochemical diversity of humans and the importance of studying individuals and their different internal environmental requirements through the prism of nutrition. As with Linus Pauling, a large part of Williams’ legacy is one of wide promotion of the importance of nutrition in health and preventative medicine.

Williams was born in Ootacamund, India, to U.S. Baptist missionary parents, on August 14th, 1893. His family returned stateside when he was two years old and he grew up in Kansas and California. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Redlands in 1914 and a high school teacher’s certificate from the University of California, Berkeley the following year. His undergraduate experiences with organic chemistry discouraged his initial inclinations toward graduate study in chemistry, and he chose instead to teach chemistry and physics at a local high school. During this time he also married Hazel Wood, his college sweetheart. They later raised three children together and were married for thirty-five years.

Roger Williams as a young man.

Roger Williams, age 16.

After two difficult years of teaching high school, Williams decided at last to pursue graduate school at the University of Chicago, the institution from which all three of his older brothers had graduated. Williams overcame his fear of organic chemistry with the help of a influential professor and earned his M.S. in 1918 and his Ph.D. one year later. His doctoral thesis was titled The Vitamin Requirement of Yeast, scholarship that attracted an unusual amount of attention and that proved to be the basis for much of his later work on nutrition.

Williams departed Chicago to become a professor at the University of Oregon, eventually moving to our own Oregon State University, then known as Oregon State College or OSC. During his two decades in Oregon, he continued to study yeast and human nutritional science, research that promoted the use of microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria in nutritional studies. The use of these substances sped up nutritional experimentation greatly and played an important role in advancing the fields of enzymology, genetics, and molecular biology.

While at OSC in 1933, Williams discovered and isolated pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5, an essential vitamin for synthesizing coenzyme-A and synthesizing and metabolizing proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. He later won both the Mead Johnson Award from the American Institute of Nutrition and the Chandler Medal from Columbia University for this discovery.

Not long after, in 1936 Williams’ oldest brother, Robert, synthesized and isolated aneurin (now called thiamin or vitamin B1), an important vitamin for human neurological processes. Roger Williams later discovered that thiamine is also important for yeast growth.


Williams during his graduate school days at the University of Chicago.

Williams during his graduate school days at the University of Chicago.

Williams and Linus Pauling met at Oregon State College, where Pauling had received his baccalaureate degree in 1922. In 1936 Williams and Pauling began to correspond about Williams’ research on pantothenic acid, Williams requesting Pauling’s help in determining the structure of the substance using x-ray crystallographic techniques. Pauling agreed to help because he was very interested in Williams’ research, and the two continued their correspondence into the following year.

Amidst this scientific collaboration, Williams also wrote to Pauling to complain about the state of the chemistry department at OSC. Pauling, in turn, wrote a letter to the state’s chancellor of higher education, suggesting that the head of the OSC chemistry department, Professor John Fulton, retire and be replaced by Roger Williams. Pauling wrote a glowing recommendation of Williams, noting that

Professor Williams is recognized throughout the country as an outstanding teacher of chemistry and an outstanding research man. His text-books in organic chemistry and biochemistry are widely used and show him to be a thoroughly well trained and able chemist and teacher. His researches and in particular his recent work on pantothenic acid constitute the most important chemical contribution that has been made from Oregon.

Pauling’s interest in the situation did not end with this recommendation. After a visit to Corvallis to give a speech for the Sigma Xi scientific research society, Pauling investigated Fulton by writing a letter of inquiry to Harvard University. He found that Fulton had only finished one course at Harvard, for which he received a C. The rest of his coursework had never been completed. Williams and Pauling thus concluded that Fulton had a phony master’s degree on his vita.

Pauling’s advocacy of Williams apparently fell on deaf ears. In December 1939 Williams wrote to Pauling of a deteriorating environment at OSC and his decision to move on.

I have come to the decision that I must sever my connection with this institution as soon as I can make arrangements to locate elsewhere….The atmosphere in which I have found myself has often not been stimulating and continual annoyances are bound to wear away one’s spirit.

Williams’ departure was Oregon State’s loss; as it turned out, Pauling was correct in his evaluation of Williams’ abilities.


The decision to move having been made, Pauling continued to look out for Williams’ interest, writing query letters to multiple universities recommending the addition of Williams to their departments. In short order, Williams found a position as professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Williams expressed gratitude to Pauling for his assistance in the process and the two made a habit of sharing ideas on possible additions to each other’s departments for many years.

Williams ca. 1950s.

Williams ca. 1950s.

In 1941 Williams founded the Clayton Foundation Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas, serving as its director until 1963. Under Williams’ leadership, more vitamins and their variants were discovered at the Clayton Institute than at any other laboratory in the world. It was during this period that Williams first concentrated and named folic acid, or vitamin B9, an essential vitamin for DNA processes and red blood cell production. Sadly, it was also during this period, in 1952, that Williams’ first wife Hazel died. He married Mabel Phyllis Hobson the next year and the couple traveled extensively together all over the world, remaining happily married until Roger’s death in 1988.


In 1964 the volume of letters exchanged between Williams and Pauling began to increase, because Williams was writing a book and he wanted Pauling’s input. You Are Extraordinary, published in 1967, emphasizes as its central theme the crucial need for scientists to consider people as individuals, rather than focusing on the average human being. Pauling respected this idea so much that he devoted a whole chapter of his own book, Vitamin C and the Common Cold, to Williams’ ideas, extrapolating from them that individuals have unique vitamin C requirements, person to person.

Williams later in life.

Williams later in life.

In 1970 Williams made news through his publication of an article about an experiment that he conducted on rats in which he fed standard enriched white bread to one group and bread further enriched with trace minerals, vitamins, and protein to a second group. The second group fared much better than the first and he used these results to argue that bread manufacturers in the U.S. should change their enrichment protocols to add more nutrients. In response, corporations in the bread industry stated that they would not make any changes until they were recommended by the Food and Drug Administration.

Interestingly, Williams’ older brother Robert was the scientist who devised the original enrichment recommendations. Enrichment standards are necessary because the typical industrial process of milling white flour in the U.S. removes many of the important nutrients naturally available in grains. Before white bread was enriched, many Americans suffered from B vitamin deficiencies. Roger Williams argued that his brother’s original recommendations were good in 1941, but that thirty years later they could be markedly improved upon.

Williams’ push coincided with problems that Linus Pauling had been facing in his own nutritional research. Both scientists felt that nutrition research was not well respected by medical doctors and most scientists, and thus its importance was downplayed or disregarded. Because of the low degree of institutional esteem afforded to work on nutrition, insufficient funding was available to the field.

Though fighting headwinds on numerous fronts, Roger Williams was well-respected within his own community of researchers.  In alignment with Pauling’s ideas related to orthomolecular psychiatry, he served as a founding fellow of the Academy of Orthomolecular Psychiatry in 1971. That same year, Williams became an Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of Texas, though as we’ll see, the vigor of his work did not diminish in retirement.

Out of Ashes, the Phoenix Rose

Linus Pauling Jr., October 14, 2011.

Linus Pauling Jr., October 14, 2011.

[Coda to our history of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine]

Linus Pauling Science Center grand opening Keynote Address, by Linus Pauling Jr., MD. October 14, 2011.

This is a very personal account of the background that has miraculously led to this wonderful, beautiful and exciting building, I title it: OUT OF ASHES THE PHOENIX ROSE.

It was back in the spring of 1991, just over 20 years ago now, that I sat down to talk with my father at his Big Sur ranch on the rugged California coast. For many years, in fact since my mother died a decade earlier, my wife and I had made a pilgrimage to the ranch to be with my father and celebrate our three birthdays, which fortuitously fell within a two-week period.

I had been on the Board since the Palo Alto Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine’s inception in 1973, so at our 1991 meeting I knew the situation had become desperate. My father, who for all his earlier life had been full of remarkable energy and ambition, now at 90 had lost that energy and was making mistakes in judgment. He was ill with the cancer that would kill him three years later.

LPISM was failing: half a million dollars of debt, laboratory research had vanished for lack of incentive and direction, donor income was being diverted to non-nutritional investigations, there were no research grants and morale was in the basement.

As his oldest son, I could not just stand by and watch this great man’s efforts of the past quarter century go down the drain, along with his reputation. If the Institute failed, all the naysayers would crow and describe him as a senile crackpot in spite of his astonishing lifetime achievements. Additionally, the thousands of donors over the years and the makers of future bequests would feel betrayed. It was obvious he needed help. As his son, I felt it was necessary to provide that help and it felt good to me to try.

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So we had to talk. Early in my life I realized that my father was a very special person with talents I could never hope to emulate. That was emphasized by this story which I enjoy telling. When I was about 15, my father was writing an introductory chemistry textbook for Caltech freshmen, the best and brightest college freshmen, the cream of the crop. At the end of each chapter were questions. He asked me to read a chapter and answer the questions. I tried, valiantly, but I did not understand the text and could not answer a single question. When my mother heard about this, she hurried down to the Pasadena City Hall to have my name officially changed from Linus Carl Pauling to Linus Carl Pauling Jr. so no one could possibly mistake me for him.

At least I had sense enough to follow a very different track from my father, one that eventually gave me skills that now could be used to help him as my thanks to him for bringing me into the world.

It was now or never, so I boldly waded in. He and I discussed the future, starting with the past. I talked about his amazing life with his multiple triumphs in so many and so very diverse arenas.

His fame was world-wide, originating with the scientific community. I pointed out that he was arguably the first, and certainly the most successful, bridge-builder between chemistry, mathematics, physics, medicine and biology, linking these disciplines to create what is now the most popular science of all, molecular biology. One result of his creativity, hard work and dedication to science, as you all know, was the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

It was during this time period that his interest in nutrition originated, spurred by his own life-threatening kidney disease. Thanks to a rigid diet prescribed by Stanford Medical School nephrologist Dr. Thomas Addis at a time long before renal dialysis, and carefully supervised by my mother, my father not only survived a usually fatal disease but recovered completely.

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After World War II, prompted by my politically-liberal mother whom he certainly loved deeply and wanted to please, he embarked on a spectacularly successful two decades of humanitarian effort, educating the governments of the world and, necessarily, their peoples, about the evils of war and the dangers associated with unrestricted exposure to radiation, especially that produced by the hundreds of nuclear bomb tests being conducted. He suffered vilification by many from all parts of the world. He was hounded by the FBI and the United States government.

His crowning moment of glory, at least in my estimation, was his indomitable courage in confronting those nasty witch hunters, the United States Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, when facing imprisonment when he refused to disclose the names of his ban-the-bomb United Nations petition assistants. He knew that these conscientious people, most of them scientists, would be less able than he was to defend themselves from accusations and loss of employment. The Subcommittee, when faced by my father’s public popularity, courage, remarkable memory and command of facts, then backed off, their collective tail between their legs. His world-wide influence was so extensive and the result so positive that he was eventually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

So what was next for him? His old interest in nutrition as a factor in health and well-being resurfaced. Starting with vitamin C, he promoted nutrient research and encountered resistance from university, medical and government bureaucracies. He turned to the public, writing article after article and giving hundreds of talks, with the result of an explosion in popular food supplement usage. But research remained a fundamental necessity, so the private nonprofit Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine was founded in 1973 and initially showed promise.

By the time of our talk in 1991, LPISM’s outlook was dismal.

At age 90, my father was tired and dispirited. Being fully occupied with his own illness, he was unwilling to devote energy to coping with his Institute’s problems. I said to him that I could not in good conscience stand by and see his eponymous Institute go down in ignominious defeat. With his incredibly illustrious past, I felt strongly that he deserved more than that. And maybe, just maybe, I could do something about it.

We decided, together, that if the Institute, and also his reputation, were to survive, the best course of action was for the Institute to affiliate with a reputable university. That would ensure the rigorous scientific attitude and protocol necessary to legitimize micronutrient research in the future. And, most important of all, we had to be ethically responsible to the thousands of past, present and future donors who believed in my father and supported the Institute. We could not let them down.

I had just retired from 35 years of the practice of psychiatry, so I had the time and energy to devote to other endeavors. After discussion with my wife, I decided to offer to take over management of the Institute. I had to have my wife’s agreement, because I was planning to spend considerable time in Palo Alto, a long way from my home in Honolulu.

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To his credit and with an audible sigh of relief, my father agreed. We discussed affiliation possibilities, Stanford and Caltech among them. He seemed, however, to favor Oregon State University, his undergraduate alma mater, to which he had already committed his scientific papers. If you haven’t already, you should check out the Pauling Papers at the OSU Valley Library Special Collections website. You will be impressed.

During the next years, I became President and Chairman of the Board of LPISM. We reorganized radically and survived many trials and tribulations. My essential second in command Steve Lawson and I visited many universities.

OSU, thanks to then President John Byrne, Development Director John Evey and Dean of Research Dick Scanlan, was our clear and undisputed choice.

And what a great choice it was! Here now, before us, 15 years later, is the Linus Pauling Science Center, dedicated to highest-quality research in scientific areas that would surely be of interest to my father. I’m sure, if he were here, he would have tears of joy in his eyes just as I do.

I want to thank OSU President Ed Ray, Dean Sherman Bloomer, LPI Director Balz Frei, architect Joe Collins, the many others in the system who have participated in making this possible, all the donors and the people of the great state of Oregon. I specifically thank the key major donors, Tammy Valley and Pat Reser, for allowing Linus Pauling’s name to be on this beautiful building. That is a very unusual act of generosity.

It will be a great future. Thank you all with my whole heart.

The End of One Era and the Beginning of Another

Welcome message from then OSU President Paul Risser, 1996.

Welcome message from then OSU President Paul Risser, 1996.

[A history of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, Part 6 of 8]

The beginning of the 1990s proved to be a typically chaotic time for the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. Those early years saw the spectacularly fast rise and fall of the collaboration between Matthias Rath and Linus Pauling, ever increasing levels of debt and, in the nick of time, a major bequest which quite possibly saved the Institute from financial oblivion. As tumultuous as the situation had been, it was about to become more so.

In 1993 Steve Lawson’s title was changed from Executive Officer to Chief Executive Officer, though his duties effectively remained the same. At the request of Pauling, one of Lawson’s first actions as was to legally dissolve the Linus Pauling Heart Foundation. He dismissed all of the Heart Foundation’s employees and transferred the entity’s assets to LPISM. At the same time, the Palo Alto zoning law changes of which the Institute had been warned went through – the Institute finally needed to devise a solid idea of where they were going to move.

In the meantime, Lawson, looking to alleviate LPISM’s perpetual financial problems, began negotiating with the Elizabeth Arden beauty company on a deal that he hoped would greatly enhance the Institute’s well-being. Arden and its parent company, Unilever, were seeking research support and eventual endorsement from LPISM for an upcoming line of skin care products, which were infused with vitamin C.  Lawson was interested in both the financial and advertising benefit that might come from this deal, as the Institute badly needed to increase its exposure to a younger and wealthier audience.

The conversation was proceeding smoothly until Arden installed a new president, under whose watch the launch of the new products was mismanaged. This person only remained president for a short period, but the damage had been done. As a result, the deal between LPISM and Elizabeth Arden proved dramatically less prosperous than Lawson had originally hoped.

The Arden deal scrapped, the Institute’s administration encountered more bad news when they received notice that Matthias Rath was suing LPISM, alleging interference with his business practices. Following his departure from the Institute, Rath had encountered difficulty finding financial support for his vitamin C work, as some people assumed that he was trying to claim credit for Pauling’s research. One magazine in particular had published an extensive article on Pauling’s interest in vitamin C and cardiovascular disease and hadn’t even mentioned Rath.  LPISM asserted that Pauling had acknowledged Rath’s contributions in his interviews and that the Institute had no control over what various media outlets published. The lawsuit proceeded nonetheless.


The year 1994 got off to a very bad start. Pauling’s health began to deteriorate markedly and he was forced to undergo treatment for his resurgent cancer, which had spread to his liver. At the same time, the lawsuit with Rath began to intensify while Pauling spent more and more time away from the office, choosing instead the tranquility of his ranch at Big Sur. By the summer, Rath’s lawyers were visiting Pauling’s bedside to try and hash out an agreement. For the Institute, most of the year was spent dealing with these two major issues, though it did arrange to host a conference in September.

Finally, on August 19, 1994, Pauling died at his ranch. The institute that he created and which bore his name instantly felt an intense drain on its morale. Lawson recalled employees sobbing in their work spaces and noted that many staffers felt directionless, unsure what would become of LPISM without its namesake. Ironically, the organization’s financial problems were a bit relieved by this turn of events, as a flood of memorial donations soon came in.

From this moment of darkness, the situation pretty quickly started to improve. The Institute went through with the scheduled September conference, titled “The Therapeutic Potential of Biological Antioxidants.” Many people attended – more than were expected – and the audience was thrilled with the content presented, responding very enthusiastically. In turn, more donations and support began to flow into the Institute’s coffers.

Steve Harakeh, Aleksandra Niedzwiecki and Steve Lawson at LPI's September 1994 conference.

Steve Harakeh, Aleksandra Niedzwiecki and Steve Lawson at LPI’s September 1994 conference.

At the same time, the Institute received notification that another estate of consequence – the Finney estate – had been left to LPISM. This new revenue source, combined with the Swadener gift, allowed LPISM to effectively pay off its debts and even establish a small endowment to support moving the Institute. Coincidentally and almost simultaneously, a large number of bequeaths and other donations began pouring in, largely from donors cultivated years before by Richard Hicks.

The financial situation suddenly and vastly improved, Lawson and Linus Pauling Jr. began seriously hunting for a new location for LPISM. They began contacting universities all over the U.S., with decidedly mixed results. Frustrated, the Institute’s board even briefly considered closing down LPISM in favor of establishing a memorial chair at Caltech or Stanford.

However, Oregon State University eventually came forward and requested that LPISM relocate to Corvallis. In stating its case, the university stressed its historical connection with Pauling, as OSU was his alma mater and home to his papers, which were housed in the university library’s Special Collections. OSU’s argument also pointed out that its existing chemistry, health, and biomedical programs perfectly complemented LPISM and its research. Linus Jr. and Lawson agreed, and decided to move the Institute to the heart of the mid-Willamette Valley.

moving

In retrospect, the death of Pauling and the decision to move to OSU might now be viewed as equivalent to the death and rebirth of the Institute itself. By the mid-1990s, a new home established and its finances in better shape, the Institute’s future looked brighter than it had in quite some time, despite the passing of its beloved founder.